Some friends, like Corporal Wright and former teammate Lenny Moore, help watch after and entertain Mackey.

But others, once close friends, don't call anymore.

Sylvia Mackey insists she doesn't fault them.

"I don't think people are consciously saying, 'I don't want to be around him,' " she says. "It's just that ... what are they going to do? The conversation will be over in three minutes. They ask, 'Hey, how are you doing?' and he says, 'I'm on offense. I'm blocking for you.' "

Daughter Laura doesn't quite buy her mother's claim of charitable understanding.

"The hardest part is not necessarily who he is . . . [but] the way other people react," she says. "It's amazing who your friends are when you are doing well, and who they are when you are sort of down and out.

"A lot of people have turned away. It doesn't hurt [my father], but I can see how it has affected my mom."

Mackey's annual invitation to play in the Bobby Mitchell Golf Tournament doesn't arrive anymore. When his name was mentioned at the podium at a tournament banquet in July 2001, Mackey ran onto the stage and would not leave until the organizers found a way to lead him off. Later, he insisted on clutching a pear-shaped canvas bag during a group photo of Hall of Fame inductees attending the golf tournament.

"He just keeps junk in it, but he had to hold onto this bag that he is possessed with," Sylvia Mackey says. "They told him, 'No, John, we'll hold it,' and somebody reached to take it from him. He said, 'Get the [expletive] away from me.' That was unnerving for them. ... So here he is in the picture with all the Hall of Famers, and he's standing up holding this bag."

And while the Mount Washington Tavern enjoys the times Mackey dines there and entertains customers by freely giving autographs, two other restaurants in Baltimore have asked him not to return.

"He might go up to the same table five times and ask them if they wanted an autograph," his wife explains.

Hard on family

While those moments at times are awkward and embarrassing, they are not the worst of Mackey's personality and behavioral changes. When irritated, he still becomes belligerent, sometimes cursing at his wife in public.

But Sylvia Mackey professes neither to be embarrassed nor hurt by her husband's unpredictable and insensitive conduct.

"I don't care who hears it," she says. "It's the disease. I don't owe them an explanation or anything."

The illness has affected the three Mackey children differently as well.

Son John Kevin Mackey, who lives in Atlanta with his wife and three daughters, is "very understanding" and supportive, his mother says.

Laura, who once displayed "horrible anger" toward her father, patched up their differences after the diagnosis, and has plans to relocate to Baltimore from California to help care for Mackey.

"It made me less angry at him and more understanding, knowing it wasn't his fault," she says. "I'm more compassionate of him."

Another daughter, Lisa, has had trouble adjusting to the changes in her father.